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John Sherry, PhD: How to Make a Video Game that Teaches Complexity Science



As science becomes more complex, the American education system is making unprecedented investment in new technologies to address our children’s international deficit in science learning.  Everybody, from President Barack Obama to the average second grader, believes that video games have great potential for teaching difficult science content.  As a result, millions in taxpayer and foundation dollars (and Euros) have been spent building and testing educational games, games for health, and serious games.  What have been the fruits of this frenzy of activity?  Can you name an educational video game that has had the impact of Sesame Street or Blues Clues television shows?  By comparison, the Children’s Television Workshop managed to get Sesame Street off the ground within a couple of years, writing the basic scientific literature on educational media design in the process.  Not only is Sesame Street well known and proven, it laid the basis for every effective educational show to follow.  This colloquium will explore the differences between the CTW scientific approach to educational media production and the mostly non-scientific approach consuming so much of the resources in the educational games, games for health, and serious games movements.  I will outline fundamental scientific questions that remain unanswered, discuss research being done on these questions, and point to a more fruitful direction for efforts to make effective educational games.


John Sherry (PhD- Michigan State, Mass Media) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Faculty Affiliate in the Cognitive Science program at Michigan State University.  Prior to joining MSU, he taught courses on new communication technology at Purdue University and the University of Arizona.  He is the founder and recent past chair of the Game Studies Special Interest Group of the International Communication Association.  His expertise is in the use of media for education, using cognitive information processing approaches to understand the way that players interact with video games and other media.  He has published over 50 journal articles and chapters on media use and education in communication, developmental psychology, and media psychology.